Sunday, July 31, 2011

Scottish Artists celebrate Russia’s modern Bard

Scottish Artists celebrate Russia’s modern Bard
An exhibition of paintings by Vicky Stonebridge and John Mikietyn, and a ceramic sculpture by Allison Weightman, will open at the Scotland Russia Forum’s Edinburgh premises at 6pm on 12th August, attended by Sergei Krutikov, the Russian Consul General. The weeklong exhibition accompanies music by Scottish singer, songwriter and translator, Tommy Beavitt, whose long-term project to interpret and perform the work of the Russian Bard, Vladimir Vysotsky (1938-1980), in English and Russian, has been an inspiration for the work displayed. Alongside the artworks, the exhibition will present Tommy’s performances in Russian and English of some of Vysotsky’s songs, which feature universal themes of faith, conflict and individual freedom. After closing in Edinburgh on the 18th, the exhibition will then re-open at the Inchmore Gallery, near Inverness, on the 19th of August.

Tommy, who has already traveled to Russia four times to perform mainly Burns songs (in Russian and Scots-English) said: “I’ve always been fascinated by the power of song, both as a means of expressing a nation’s culture and of transcending the differences between nations. Performing and translating songs from different cultures is also a great way to learn languages. Singing Burns to Russians showed me just how valuable a role the Bard fulfills – it’s more important than ever that nations are able to understand one another. As soon as I heard Vysotsky – whose birthday, 25th of January, is the same as Burns’ – I became obsessed with him. His basic message, at the same time deeply Russian and internationalist,  has a lot in common with Burns’ message of ‘A man’s a man for a that’. I hope that Vysotsky will one day become as well-known (and loved) in Scotland as Burns is in Russia.”

Vicky, who has also had an enduring fascination with Russia, said: “This collaboration has been a fantastic opportunity to develop the work I started when I visited Russia last year. There I was painting Scottish and Celtic myths and stories, and now I have had the opportunity to paint songs by a Russian Bard.
 It is normal for me to work with other people when creating comics and Graphic Novels, but it is unusual to work this way with paintings. I am very excited to see how Russians, Scots and other people will react to them. I hope they will convey the spirit of Vysotsky’s songs in a way that can be understood by everyone.”

Vicky Stonebridge BA hons, Art & Design is a painter, illustrator and fire fighter. The inspiration for her work comes from a fascination with archaeology, history, anthropology, ancient art, myth and epics and how people have interpreted their world, as well as the universality of stories and symbols.

Living in the Highlands since childhood, she has developed a passion for traditional Scottish folklore and Pictish/Celtic stories and art. Following a Golden Deer motif has led Vicky on an on-going artistic journey towards the East, where the Russian passion for art, culture and literature has reinvigorated her own work. In 2010 she was invited to attend the Yelabuga International Art symposium organised by the Elabuga State Museum Preservation Area in Tatarstan. While there, she produced works for exhibition in the Shishkin Gallery on the theme of ‘Breath of the Epos’, and contributed to discussions exploring the cross-cultural connections in epic traditions and cultural practices. 

Vicky interprets universal human experiences through her figurative and narrative art. She weaves connections between the post-modern western experience and the global, historical perspective, seeking an accessible visual vocabulary.

Allison Weightman is also based in the Highlands. She has developed a reputation for her daring and controversial ceramic works, recently appearing on the BBC TV programme ‘Show me the Monet’ with one of her shotgun blasted pieces.
Though a shotgun may seem a controversial creative instrument it is the method by which many choose to express themselves throughout the world. In the hands of the artist it is used in full knowledge, a process balanced on the edge of the human capacity for creation and destruction” – Georgina Coburn
“I started out shooting my ceramics because I wanted people to see the damage a gun can make. This was because I had strong feelings against gun crime and the mess War makes of the lives of innocent people. Families of soldiers and innocent bystanders, these are the people who are most affected. The dead don’t speak.” – Allison Weightman
The really strange thing is that the work retains some of the quiet elegance which comes from years of craft. This makes it bearable. So you don’t switch off but look closely…” Ian Stephen

John Mikietyn is a painter and jigsaw artist who has been based in Scotland for most of his adult life. Born in a refugee camp in Liverpool to Polish parents – his father was a partisan and “bank robber” who spent the war moving around between the Balkans and Baltic – John’s work forms a powerful and eloquent response to his Slavic heritage, his formative experiences associating with rock band Led Zeppelin during the genesis of the Glastonbury festival, his many years living on Scoraig peninsula and his commitment to human spiritual development and the goal of “an eventual cessation of war”. He now lives near Edinburgh, where he spends his time fulfilling the full-time vocation of sole parent to his two children, somehow miraculously also finding the time to muse, inspire and paint.

Tommy Beavitt is a Scottish singer, writer and translator. He produced his first album of self-penned songs in 1989 at the age of 21 and spent many years performing both solo and in bands. His ‘linguistic turn’ occurred during his thirties after which time he temporarily stopped writing songs and instead devoted himself to studying languages and exposing himself to their cultures through an interpretation of the work of the ‘modern bards’.
He first travelled to Russia in 2008 and has since returned several times since to perform the work of Robert Burns in Russian and Scots-English to audiences in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.
His love of Vysotsky began after a coming across his work on the Internet about 10 years ago. Since then he has been gradually adding Vysotsky songs to his repertoire – first painstakingly learning the songs by heart in Russian and only then, after they have been completely internalised, venturing to render their rhythm, themes and imagery through the medium of (Scots) English.
He is currently engaged in a project to develop a bi-cultural, bi-national festival in January, dedicated to Scotland and Russia’s respective Bards and to increasing the cultural and economic ties between the two countries, which seem to have so much in common.

Vladimir Vysotsky is almost universally known and loved in the Russian-speaking world and in many parts of the former Soviet Union. Yet, other than to a few Russophiles, who appreciate that he may be the genuine “heir to Pushkin”, his work remains relatively obscure in Anglophonia.
His more than 1000 songs have been translated into over 60 languages, yet in his lifetime he was never officially released in the USSR, his songs instead being distributed by a process called ‘magnetizdat’ (tape-to-tape copying). Incredibly, over the course of his short and intensely lived life, he also managed to become a major theatre, TV and film actor.
While he was branded “anti-Soviet”, he was never referred to as a dissident writer and is often thought of as a great Russian patriot. Beginning with the ‘blatnaya pesnya’ (outlaw songs) genre, deriving from prison ballads sung by those returning from the Gulag, his songs branched out to deal with an extremely broad array of themes, in which human freedom and faith are often central.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Great Treehouse Challenge for TV

I blogged back on the 11th July about our community pitching for a TV programme to build a dream tree house, and that i'd drawn up the initial design sketches. Well we got it and 3 days later the TV film crew are here starting work on the programme.

It will be called The great Tree house challenge. It will be aired in November on Sky 1. There will be three projects, one in England, one in Wales and ours, one hour programme for each tree house. The programme will be fronted by architect and presenter Charlie Luxton ( DIY SOS,  Build a New Life in the Country  and many others ).
Something like this will always be a whirlwind, things have moved so fast, there has hardly been time to get the word around the village. The idea is to get everyone involved, its our community, we have the opportunity to create a wonderful space for community use. As soon as cameras are involved some people shrink away and others come out of the woodwork, there can also be some cynicism ( I don't have basic television never mind Sky! ). One of the many problems in small communities is that there will be people you don't like or get on with. Do we want to live in communities or in our own houses in minimised family units? If we want to be part of something we just have to make compromises, be civil to people we don't like, get over it, build bridges... or in this cases treehouses. Some of you may remember I had a long legal battle with over my building at the Smithy Heritage Centre site, it was messy, but its over now. The building is sold to the new committee and has a new tenant preparing to move in, the site is getting tidied up at last and things are moving forwards. The Heritage site was once a lovely space for visitors and locals alike. I sincerely believe this TV project presents an opportunity to lift this site and the whole area and create something special. I hope as many people get involved as possible. You can't complain if you don't try to make a difference yourself.

So Tuesday night various people went to the Strathcarron pub and hotel to meet the film crew, architects and producer/ director. The idea was to create the first footage of the community discussing why we want a treehouse, what the problems of the area are and why this project will help. We also needed to get ideas on paper. I prepared a slideshow of treehouse designs on my laptop to stimulate ideas and went armed with flip charts, aided by our local Development officer Kristine who has been doing all the hard work coordinating and organising this. People were shy and unsure at first of what to do but after a round of drinks and waiting about for the lights and cameras to be set up, people started talking. The presenter Charlie walked around and talked to us, asking various questions. It was good to see that nothing was rehearsed, all was spontaneous and genuine. I settled down with the flip chart and a couple of others came and we started drawing out the ideas. Architect Alex came and joined us. While he and Charlie are the experts, they are keen to understand what we want, what we need this building to be used for, to be led by our ideas. 
( the original sketch for the treehouse by the river )

( Charlie and Alex talking about the designs )

Out of my three original design sketches, The two large trees by the river seem to be the best ones to build with. I'd originally thought of a long thin rectangular building going inbetween the narrow space between the two trees and overhanging the river.  Talking with people though the idea of a circular crannog/ round house shaped building seemed to be the preference. On stilts. lots of windows. making use of a natural raised bank and reaching out over the river.

We were thinking small but architect and tree house specialist Alex was thinking BIG! Six meters across? so we'd need to actually build the trees inside the structure! My Neighbour Bart had a great idea for angled supports ( i have no idea of the correct terminology! ). Director Jeremy asked if we could draw up the new ideas on a big sheet of paper to film. So after the pub, at midnight I quickly scribbled out this version of the river house;
So Wednesday morning bright and early a few folks met on site. For the purposes of the programme they have focused on one person to do all the on camera interviews/ discussions. George Hendry ( Author of books on Ticks and Midges and champion of many community causes) had been selected to brave the cameras and was doing a brilliant job of spokesperson.
( Bruno starts work clearing the site by helpfully shifting a small rock )

Myself , Alex and Bart had a chance to look properly at the river site while George was getting filmed talking to Charlie and discussing my drawing. We soon realised that the sketch would need changing. One tree has three large boughs which would interfere with the roof shape, and the trees are too close together to be in the centre of the structure. To keep the height, it would be possible to push the whole building area back, have a walkway and the trees as the entrance with a 6 meter circle behind right at the edge of the river. Digging in the foundations into glacier rubble, with no vehicular access will also be a challenge.
Next the designs will be drawn up properly, a materials list will be produced so that we can source as much as possible locally. Then planning, site preparation, pre fabricating, and later in the summer a the structure will get built in FOUR days!  All hands to the decks!  watch this space.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lochcarron Games 2011

(Richmond manning the Balnacra Arts stand )

( a few spaces after a long day's selling )

( Bruno keeps his eye on the extra stock for us )

( some unusual competitors in this years hill race )

Lochcarron Highland Games was cancelled last year due to the heavy rain and waterlogged pitch. This is Lochcarron, in the summer we expect rain & midges, however today's games passed without too much of either. These were the best games in years and congratulations are due to the hardworking team who pulled it together. There was also the biggest crowd I've seen in years. The village swells for a couple of days as all the young folks and their new families come home for the games. Its sad & poignant to see how many people have had to leave- there simply isn't work, housing or opportunities here for them, its lovely to see folks when they do all come back together though.
As usual we took a stall to sell prints and cards of my artwork, strange to be away from the easel and out in public! Always good to get feedback about my work and a wee bit of cash! One lady who stopped for a chat reminded me of a pottery commission i did for her ...TWENTY years ago. scary! where does time go?

I wish i had time to take more photos, I am aware that the games are so normal & common place for us but for people outside Scotland must seem very strange, yes we do have hurling the haggis competitions, men in kilts, bagpipes playing, local venison & salmon to eat, and highland dancers, and the night before a village dance with traditional music and what you'd call Scottish country dancing... we just call it dancing. Culture matters. We shouldn't let these things become theme park parodies, its important to keep it alive and thriving.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tree house

Our local development officer was contacted about a pitching for a TV programme. Build your community dream Tree house type idea. She had 3 days to get a proposal into the production company, explaining why our community needs a project to work together with members of the community to build a tree house. I was asked to do some design sketches, now having lived in wooden huts before & built myself sheds, shelters and a greenhouse from greenwood and reclaimed scraps, I have a rather organic approach to building design. With the turnaround time on this proposal there wasn't even time to get the ruler out- who needs straight lines anyway.

We have the community grounds, the small wooded area behind the Smithy Heritage Centre, where my former pottery building is- I helped plant many of these trees in 1991. We have the organisation in the 'Kirkton Woodland and Heritage group' who are looking into a community woodlands buy out. Now would we have the community interest & enthusiasm?
The TV people liked the initial proposal and put us on the UK short list of 8 projects, 3 of which will be filmed. A representative and her camera came up on Friday 8th to meet members of the community, and make a short film to take back to the producers.  There was actually a good and enthusiastic turnout to meet her at the Smithy, we had lots of children and young people, different community groups represented. We talked to camera as a group about why our community needs support to stop it dying out, to preserve culture & heritage, to give young people something to do, to bring diverse committees and people together. a few of us then did individual interviews on camera- always a bit nerve wracking!   It was wonderful to see the childrens very genuine enthusiasm and listen to what they had to say. They had a good run about the grounds and had some brilliant ideas where to build a treehouse & what we could do with it. We should find out this week if the programme will go ahead. Filming and building would start in October.

I also noticed that the willow dome on the grounds needed a little work, so went back on the Saturday to weave the new growth in. I managed to poke myself badly in the eye with a stick, scratch my eyeball, partially loose my vision for 2 days and had to get driven to A&E 65 miles away. Whats that about suffering for art?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

'Reactions to Vysotsky. Scottish Artists Respond to the Russian Bard'.

Work is progressing with the 'Reactions to Vysotsky.  Scottish Artists Respond to the Russian Bard' project.

"An exhibition of paintings by Vicky Stonebridge and John Mikietyn, and a ceramic sculpture by Allison Weightman, will open at the Scotland Russia Forum’s Edinburgh premises on 12th August. The week long exhibition accompanies music by Scottish singer and translator, Tommy Beavitt, whose long-term project to interpret and perform the work of the Russian Bard, Vladimir Vysotsky (1938-1980), in English and Russian, has been an inspiration for the work displayed. The exhibition will present audio recordings of Vysotsky songs in Russian and English alongside the artworks, which illustrate or otherwise respond to the strong themes of faith, conflict and individual freedom, brought to life in Vysotsky’s material."

The Exhibition will open with a private recital of the Vysotsky songs by Tommy Beavitt. Then on the 19th August the exhibition will move up North to Inchmore Gallery, near Inverness with another recital ( all welcome ) on the evening of the 19th August.

Here is the link to the Scottish Russian Forum listing.
The link to the Edinburgh Facebook event.

I'll post up the biographies of those involved in the next few days along with some more tasters of some of the paintings. Above is 'Hunting the wolf'

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

public sector cuts?

Here is a bit of art work I've done this week for some of my colleagues are who's area Fire brigade have basically run out of money. Its just not funny. After the public sector strike last week about pensions I've heard a lot of complaining that the public sector being unrealistic and 'throwing toys out the pram' about the cut backs. This is simply not the case, The argument that the free market will provide all is simply unrealistic. Where is the profit in caring, educating or saving lives? We had a voluntary Fire service up here before, in my time. We laugh about the things that happened in those days, some would like to go back to the freedom of it. But the way things were, the equipment we had to use, the dangers and risks were simply not acceptable. We cannot have emergency services who are not trained or equipped properly. This is what the private sector has provided during the london strikes, this was what we had as volunteers in the past. It is just not acceptable. Why should members of our communities and Fire fighters die because of economic problems caused by banks and government financial mismanagement? We are not all in it together but we should all unite against the unjust cutbacks and fight for a progressive and fair UK.